It was 1:30 a.m.
Within seconds, I heard our front door shut.
That door was locked. I know that door was locked. Who shut our front door?
For those of you who haven’t experienced someone opening your door in the middle of the night — or any other kind of paranoid-daydream-come-true — you might wonder how you’d react in such a situation. If your life was possibly in danger, what would your instincts tell you to do?
Would your brain switch to a hyper-alert setting that sparked a “fight” instinct? Would you immediately run and hide? Or would you be more like me, frozen in a numb paralysis?
I helplessly watched my husband disappear down the dark hallway as I quietly listened, frozen. Breathlessly still.
And so I was sitting in our bed, listening and not breathing, as my husband looked down our stairwell and saw that the front door’s lock was flipped open. OPEN.
I was still sitting in that bed, listening and not breathing, as my husband cocked his head around the corner to peer into our 4-year-old son’s bedroom and found an empty toddler bed. EMPTY.
I didn’t hear him gasp. I didn’t hear the blood drain from his head. I didn’t hear him stumble down the stairs, bracing himself against the wall as he floated toward an unlocked door that was most definitely locked.
What I did hear was voices and crying, and so what felt like a second later (and 1,000 lifetimes to my husband), I ran down the hallway, past an empty bedroom, down a darkened staircase, to a little boy shivering and crying — trembling with fear. He was only wearing his underwear as he backed himself into the shadows, sobbing, because “WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE? LEAVE ME ALONE!”
While my husband — still seeing red — was looking around the bushes for anyone who dared steal his baby from his bed, I scooped up a flailing boy and told him he was safe. He was okay. I recognized the dazed, fear-stricken boy who used to sleep walk throughout his twos and have night terrors as an infant. I knew he somehow navigated a dark staircase, unlocked the door, and ran outside in a subconscious, I-won’t-remember-this-in-the-morning state.
And of course he remembered nothing by sunrise. He had no idea the sheer panic that burst through his father’s heart only hours earlier, nor did he remember his mother rocking his shaking body back to sleep. He couldn’t explain how he managed to unlock and pull open a door that’s difficult to open under the most ordinary and alert circumstances.
And he couldn’t possibly know that his dad spent the rest of the night sitting up in bed, nodding in and out of nightmares before jumping awake with a full-body jerk.
Nevertheless, he accompanied us to the hardware store the next morning and watched as we installed a simple chain lock — to lock in our baby, lock up our fear, and protect our hearts from that kind of primal and universal terror.